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Teen Child Custody in Georgia: Can My Teenage Child Choose Which Parent to Live With?

by Sharon Jackson  on December 30, 2023 under 

In many situations, children have very strong opinions on where they should live or what they desire when parents divorce. In the best situation, the child agrees with what is occurring, but even in those situations, there are limitations to when a child’s opinion will be used in making decisions about child custody. If you are facing decisions about teen child custody in Georgia, it is best to discuss your case with an attorney as a first step.

At Sharon Jackson Attorney LLC, our child custody attorney in Lawrenceville, Georgia can help to provide very specific answers to your questions and to create a plan for child custody for teens. Connect with us now to get guidance on all aspects of your case.

Can Children Tell a Judge Where They Wish to Live in Child Custody?

The short answer is yes. A child who is over the age of 14 can provide information to a judge about their desired living arrangements in child custody matters. This does not mean the child chooses where he or she wishes to live! Rather, the judge will use this information to make a decision.

Typically, a judge will value this insight and information and will order what the child wants to occur.

In the past judges valued this insight and information but the views about a child’s right to make an election are changing.

Generally, the older the child is, the more value the judge will place on the child’s feedback. If a seventeen-year-old child gives input, then it will carry some weight.  Regardless of the child’s age, however, the judge will ensure that the decision is in the child’s best interest. If the judge does not believe the parent is fit to care for the child or there are reasons to believe the parent is not a good fit, the judge may not adhere to the wishes of the teen.

This is called custody election. Some judges oppose the custody election by a minor because they feel it puts too much pressure on a child to make adult decisions. Recently one judge described it as child abuse. 

Experienced lawyers and judges have witnessed far too many cases where one parent accuses the other of pressuring the child to make an election.  Similarly, teenagers can be fickle.  Parents can spend thousands of dollars fighting for custody after a teenager becomes angry at the other parent only for the child to get over the dispute and change his or her mind about the election.

What About Children Under the Age of 14?

Children between the ages of 11 to 13 can give input regarding their preference, but it is generally frowned upon by the courts absent extenuating circumstances. For children in this age range and younger, a better option is to work with your attorney to select a guardian ad litem or a child custody evaluator.

Understanding Physical, Joint, and Legal Custody in Georgia

While discussing teen child custody in Georgia, it is important to understand the difference in the types of custody that can be awarded. Again, when it comes to child custody for teens, a child over the age of 14 may have a say in each of these areas, and most often, a judge will choose to go that route, pending any other risks.

Physical Custody
This form of child custody focuses specifically on where the child lives. Typically, this is the decision the over-14-year-old is going to make. Physical custody governs where the child will spend most of their time. Georgia judges warn parents to not advise their child that they get to decide where they want to live when they turn 14 because it is simply not true. The judge always makes this decision, not the child.

Legal Custody
This term refers to the decision-making control given to parents. When it comes to decisions that revolve around the child’s religious practice, education, and healthcare, the person named as legal custodian will have the ultimate decision in these areas. It is difficult for a divorcing parent to lose legal custody.  Courts recognize that there is a strong right for parents to raise and care for their children. Georgia expects parents to be legally and financially responsible for their children. Most divorce cases end with both parents having joint legal custody.

Joint Custody
Parents can agree to joint physical custody or in it can be court ordered. With this arrangement, the parents enjoy nearly equal amounts of parenting time.  The parenting schedule for joint physical custody may vary from week on, week off parenting plans to more complicated plans such as a 2-2-3 plan. Certain counties and specific judges have more favorable views about joint physical custody than others. Some judges will never order it unless the parties specifically agree to it and express it.  Even if the parties agree to joint physical custody, the court can deny the request if it is deemed to not be in the best interest of the child.   For example, if one parent lives in Marietta and the other parent lives in Lawrenceville, the parents might enjoy having equal parenting time, but the child may suffer from having to get up two hours early to arrive at school on time each day.

What Can a Parent Do if Their Teen Elects to Live with the Other Parent?

There are many instances in which parents do not agree on where a child lives. There are often concerns about what one parent says about the other parent to influence such decisions. Other times, you simply know that the child should not live with the other parent.

Remember that custody election by 14-year-olds is not always a given. There are times when the child’s decision simply is not beneficial to that child. The judge is always the final decision maker and fact finder.

In this situation, your child custody attorney will work closely with you to determine how to prove to an attorney that this is the case. If there is evidence of abuse in any way or manipulation of the child, that could be used as evidence in fighting the request of child custody for teens.

If a judge needs more information to make a decision, the judge can order the parties to pay for the costs of a third lawyer who represents the child exclusively.  Known as guardian ad litem, this attorney will conduct home studies, review school and medical records, and interview witnesses in order to make a recommendation regarding custody to the court. A few larger metro Atlanta counties such as Gwinnett County and Fulton County offer a free guardian for parents who can not afford to pay for a private guardian, but in many other Georgia counties, the parties will have to share in the cost of employing a guardian if one is needed.

This is a Serious Decision That Judges Do Not Make Lightly

A judge understands the parental alienation that can occur, such as when one parent tries to limit the father’s rights other parent’s rights or when a nasty divorce ends up using children in a manipulative manner. The key here is that a judge will have a conversation with the teen and really try to understand not just what they want or need but why. Often, this type of conversation is done with some level of privacy for the child, such as in the judge’s chambers, with the specific goal of reducing the risk that the child will feel pressured to make a statement one way or the other.

Let Our Child Custody Attorney in Gwinnett County Georgia Help You

 Call us at (678) 436-3636 to set up a free case evaluation today.

Teen child custody in Georgia can be complicated, but you are not in this battle on your own. Our highly experienced child custody attorneys at Sharon Jackson Attorney, LLC can help to guide your decision-making and help you determine the best legal steps forward to protect your child. You will always receive exceptional support and personalized attention from our legal team.

Contact us for a consultation to discuss your case. Let us provide you with insight into what you can expect when it comes to child custody for teens.


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